Promoting Traditional Music (2011)

Music lessons, in contemporary Kyrgyz music institutions are still taught based on the old-fashioned principles deprived of any spirituality. Not only does N.Abdrakhmanov teach komuz playing using En Belgi system, but also demonstrates traditional model of teaching music.

Therefore, the main component of the project is a teaching seminar for high school, music school/collage/university teachers of music throughout the country. Working with teachers is one of the most efficient ways to cooperate with the state structures, speedily reach remote areas and incorporate new teaching methodologies. It might have been little more difficult and time-consuming provided we tried to introduce the En Belgi system through official state educational structure, since, unfortunately, efficiency of our state structures leaves much to be desired. The main methodological tool of the seminar is a book onKomuz playing with Nurak Andrakhmonov’s En Belgi note system devised and published by the Aigine CRC together with N.Abdrakhmanov in 2010 with a DVD disk. The leading expert and instructor of the seminar is N.Abdrakhmanov himself.

Selection of participants was conducted in two rounds, i.e. application submission followed by an interview. Main selection criteria included a) completion of a higher music institution; b) familiarity with komuz; c) teaching experience at a state institution; d) letter of support from workplace; e) availability to participate in all the three seminar sessions; f) interest in traditional knowledge. One of our strategic goals was to recruit participants from remote areas, especially from the southern oblasts, as there is a big information gap, as well as lack of financial and human resources. However, as it was expected, we faced certain difficulties and challenges in reaching out to those areas. The absence of communication means at schools and weak network of regional education departments, made it difficult to disseminate the information. Therefore, network of our regional practitioners and collaborators played an important role in our publicity campaign. Certainly, applicants from Bishkek outnumbered those from the regions, which became one of the other challenges to deal with. However, with some effort and networking, we were able to recruit 15 teachers from remote villages of Osh, Jalal-Abad, Batken, Talas, Naryn and Issyk-Kul oblasts. We have selected only one applicant from Bishkek, instructor of komuz at the NTTU named after I. Arabaev[1]Cholpon Alymbekova, deputy-head of the #5 Bishkek children’s music school and N. Abdrakhmanov’s one of the eldest apprentices became the self-financed 16th participant of the spring session. However, her profound knowledge of komuz and strong interest in mastering and promoting En Belgi, but most importantly, her assistance to N. Abdrakhmanov by explaining some details and conducting individual work with each participant, made us invite her as a full-fledged participant under a condition of becoming an adjunct instructor (att.3: list of the teaching seminar participants).

The teaching seminar was divided into three sessions throughout the year – one-week spring session, two-weeks summer session and one-week fall session. The spring session (May 17-22, Bishkek) was planned as a set-up seminar aimed to introduce the En Belgi system to participants and exchange with spiritual experience related to komuz and traditional melodies. One of the immediate difficulties that we faced during the first-two days of the session was participants’ diverse music education, different level of komuz playing and professional/spiritual experience. As a result, two groups were formed, advanced and intermediate. However, all the differences and difficulties notwithstanding all the participants and the instructor were able to find common ground for joint work, share their experience and help each other in every possible way, which laid a solid foundation for future fruitful cooperation (att.4: teaching seminar on En Belgi – program and report of the spring session). At the end of the spring session, Aigine CRC signed an agreement with each participanthighlighting conditions to participate in summer and fall sessions and requirements to receive a certificate. One of the main conditions, apart from mastering and promoting En Belgi, was data collection on komuz, traditional music and traditional knowledge in regions of participant’s residence. Successful fulfillment of latter condition ensured data collection from remote areas and was intended to replenish Aigine CRC’s website on traditional knowledge.

The theoretical part of all the sessions included explanation of all the En Belgi signs accompanied by reading the music. Basics started with learning easy and small children’s songs and, with each session, went on with learning more and more advanced melodies, special hand play techniques and other conventional signs. Both, participants and staff members of the Aigine CRC witnessed simplicity of the En Belgi as all the participants easily memorized all the main signs (i.e. notes) and learned start-up assignments without any difficulty, which gave a perfect start for mastering more advanced melodies. However, those participants without knowledge of reading music, experienced minor hardships when it came to advanced melodies; they were confusing certain signs and had difficulty reading them. Every learned melody was strengthened by frequent repetitions and short quizzes; at the end of each session participants passed through an examination on new and old learned melodies. Moreover, participants expressed their desire, not only to learn those melodies scheduled in the program, but also asked N. Abdrakhmanov set to En Belgi some additional melodies and songs, which was a perfect example of their eagerness and interest to learn as many melodies and songs as possible onEn Belgi system.

The summer session (July 1-12, Issyk-Kul) was held on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul and mountains of Karakol with a field trip to sacred site Jeti-Oguz[2]. The essence of Kyrgyz traditional music is about the beauty of nature, pure running water, abundance of plants and animals, the harmony and oneness of a human being with nature. The whole course of the summer session went in a positive atmosphere surrounded by the magnificent beauty of the mountains, trees, innumerable wild flowers and the fresh air filled with natural aroma and scent. Both, komuz players and Manas reciters[3] received energy and spiritual elevation to master and play their melodies and epic recitation. Aigine CRC learned that well-organized and balanced combination of theoretical and spiritual component, entertainment, sightseeing, rest and work is a key to an efficient model of conducting a session and transmitting knowledge and imbibing new information. The program of the summer session was also more focused on group work and individual training (att.5: teaching seminar on En Belgi – program and report of the summer session). Participants were divided into, and worked in small groups, with later collective rehearsals, which proved to be efficacious and expedient way, since participants worked with more concentration and attention in smaller groups.

One of the conditions of the teaching seminar was to train certain  number of students to play komuz with theEn Belgi system in between the spring and summer sessions, and almost all the participants successfully fulfilled this condition by forming and giving private lessons to a group of 10-13 students.

Relatively high turnout of interested students in such a short period of time couldn’t not excite and encourage participants, as the number of students is in direct proportion to the size of financial benefit. Being able to be financially rewarded for one’s work, especially when it comes to teaching, becomes one of the driving forces to carry on with their profession. It is a perfect combination when favorite professional activity brings satisfactory financial reward, which in turn gives more incentives and motivation to a person to excel in their activity. Therefore, both, professional growth and financial benefits became one of the strong motivating factors for participants to fully master the En Belgi system and traditional folk melodies. However, not everything went so smooth and easy. One of the main difficulties of the summer session was learning conventional sings which indicate special hand play techniques and different sound level. There were cases, when N. Abdrakhmanov and Ch. Alymbekova spent long hours working individually with each participant on one particular hand play technique; sometimes they would stay up until midnight learning a new melody. It was evident how much effort, will, perseverance, patience and hard work each participant put in mastering new melodies. As one of the participants, Jakypov K., said: You’ve treated us as kings, but made us work as slaves, which perfectly described the course of the summer session.

The concluding fall session (November 19-25) was held in Bishkek and during this short time participants learned 7 most advanced and difficult melodies (att.6: teaching seminar on En Belgi – program and report of the fall session). Other 17 melodies learned during the two previous sessions were fully mastered and perfected. Participants became proficient in reading music on En Belgi; they also mastered all the hand play techniques and conventional sings. Participants integrated the En Belgi system into their school teaching curriculum and now teach komuz though private lessons and within the official school curriculum. Integration of traditional teaching methodology, in this case En Belgi, into the state education system was one of the Aigine CRC’s long-term goals, which has already started implementing itself. By the end of the fall session, we had 16 qualified and proficient instructors of the En Belgi note system. After passing an official examination on all the learned melodies and fulfilling all the requirements spelled out in the agreement, participants were awarded with a certificate acknowledging their ability and proficiency to teach komuzplaying based on En Belgi system. This group became the first network of music teachers, as well asbearers of traditional music throughout the country qualified to teach, preserve, promote and transmit traditional folk melodies and teaching methodology.

Teaching was carried out in a very positive and constructive atmosphere; there was no division and separation into “teacher” and “student” or “strong” and “weak”. Everybody worked together to reach one goal by helping, learning from and teaching each other; the knowledge was being transmitted through live action andinteraction. There was a strong sense of unity, team work and spiritual upliftedness. Apart from learning En Belgi, participants also had a chance to immerse themselves in the mysterious world of sacred sites through documentary movies produced by the Aigine CRC with support of The Christensen Fund; become captivated by and indulge in Manas chanting; be fascinated by stories about healing capacities of komuz melodies passed from one generation to another; bask in the summer sun and plunge into the crystal-clear blue waters of Lake Issyk-Kul. N. Abdrakhmanov, having raised several generations of successful apprentices shared his experience, skills and knowledge on how to build strong and efficient master and apprentice relationship, which was essential and practical information for the participants.

As tangible results of the project’s first year, we can consider the following:

–        Formation of a strong ensemble of 16 people (who named itself as “Aigine group”) with a ready repertoire of songs and melodies ready for performance;

–        Birth of a new song Isyk-Kolum, which became the group’s anthem;

–        Conduct of two public concerts, at the Marko Polo Resort and during the meeting with representatives of Kyrgyz people living in Murghab, Tajikistan.

–        Stepping on to the academic terrain – Abdubaliev B., komuz instructor from the OshSU’s[4] music department chose to work on Traditional Motives in N.Abdrakhmanov’s Work during his PhD. Starting from January 2012 he will have 10 days internship at the Aigine CRC to start his initial research. Second participant, Jakypov K., komuz instructor from the NTTU named after I. Arabaev, together with N.Abdrakhmanov and Aigine CRC will prepare a manual on komuz playing based on En Belgi system for middle and high school students by the end of 2012;

–        Alymbekova Ch., informal leader of the group and N.Abdrakhmanov’s assistant, started giving komuz lessons to the Aigine CRC’s staff members, and from January 2012, on a regular basis, will start giving lessons to music teachers from Bishkek and all those willing to learn how to play komuz;

–        Successful training the future “trainers” and bearers of En Belgi system.

Selection of participants for the next year’s teaching seminar has already started  and will mostly include students and colleagues of our first-year participants who, during the year, have prepared and spread out the information about the En Belgi and have already taught them some basics. Aigine CRC expects the second-year group to be musically advanced with basic knowledge of En Belgi and which will be able to master more melodies than the first-year group.

[1] National Teachers Training University named after I. Arabaev.

[2] From Kyrgyz means seven bulls.

[3] The summer session was jointly conducted with the school for novice Manas narrators.

[4] Osh State University